When the clock hit zero and the scoreboard reflected the 17-14 loss for the BYU Cougars, the realization of another 1-2 start to the football season hit the Cougar faithful. After a close win Arizona, two close losses followed as each game came down to the wire and one final possession. Just the fact that the Cougars were in all three games is a statement to the BYU defense as the offense has under-performed in dramatic fashion. In fact, this offense has performed so poorly that the last time we saw a choke like this we were watching Stephen Curry in the NBA finals.
So where did it all go wrong for the Cougars? It is hard to place blame on one specific group as it seems like there have been failings everywhere. However, below are a few areas that must be addressed in some form if the Cougars are going to find a way to win seven games:
This is of course the hot topic since Taysom Hill hasn't found his touch, or his speed, since he came back from injury. It doesn't help that lurking in the wings is a talented and proven quarterback in Tanner Mangum. Ty Detmer and Kalani Sitaki made the decision to start Hill before the season and they have stuck with him through the good and the bad. The question going through many fans minds is if they have stuck with the veteran for too long.
Regardless of what people think or believe, Hill hasn't played his best games this year. To be fair it all can't be put on his shoulders as many other aspects of the offense are under-performing as well. That being said, Hill does appear to have lost a step and is struggling to reach the edge and stretch the field. His accuracy has never been a strong point but so far his 58% completion percentage has hindered the passing game. He is pushing 5.5 yards per passing attempt but this marks the worst of his career.
Even with his struggles he does bring some positives to the offense that Mangum can't duplicate. Just look back at this 39 yard touchdown run against Utah. Even being a step slower he still presents another dimension that defenses need to plan for. In the past the legs of Hill covered up some of his passing limitations, the question now presenting itself is if those same limitations are still covered up by his talent to run. The one thing that nobody can question is his heart, commitment, and dare we say grit to this team. One of the reasons the coaches picked him was due to his leadership abilities and combined with his intangibles it could warrant more time on the field as the team continues to roll out their new offense.
Not all the incomplete passes can be placed on the shoulders of Hill. Dropped balls have continued to plague the Cougars receivers through the first three games. Many teams can rely on their receivers to catch some tough balls as they make their quarterback look good.
So far this season the receivers have made few difficult catches, and have dropped a number of easy catches, leading to an even lower completion percentage for Hill. These same drops would make Mangum look just as bad. Regardless of who is throwing the ball, if the receivers aren’t catching them the offense won’t move. It is also interesting to see that in some cases the receivers and Hill aren't on the same page. A handful of incomplete passes against UCLA came from an incorrect route, or a correct route being run incorrectly. If the receivers can't get on the same page as the quarterback then the most accurate passer in the game will look bad.
Much of the pressure that Hill is under when on the field comes from an offensive line that misses one block or one assignment. It is difficult to pass the ball when running for your life and Hill has had to do this more times than is acceptable.
The Cougars front line must give Hill more time in the pocket in order to improve his accuracy, and limit what his legs have to do. The running game has felt the effects of the lack of blocking as Jamaal Williams is taking hit after hit, and then getting his yards. Very few holes are being opened for the runners and this is causing the running game to be ineffective.
The line has shown glimpses, and have done a good job in the two minutes offense, but the game is 60 minutes and they need to play a full game.
Would Tanner at the helm create more spacing of defenders as the outside now becomes a threat? That's a question for the coaches to answer.
Ty Detmer has come into a precarious position at BYU. He had never coached at the college level and is suddenly coming in with a new offense and calling plays from the sidelines. Many expected his genius as a Heisman winning quarterback to carry over into his offense right away. This hasn't been the case in the early goings and he is showing some of the growing pains that should be expected.
However, just because he comes in and revitalizes the fan base doesn't mean he should get a pass on accepting responsibility. Like any coach he has made some bad play calls, the problem is that his offense hasn't had the ability to overcome these play calls. Ty himself questioned the play call for the two point conversion against Utah as he wished he had given Hill an option of passing the ball.
There have also been a few 3rd and longs where he went for 3rd and a hundred. Not to mention the occasional Robert Anae draw on 3rd and a million. Ty is learning but he may still be at the point of being out of his depth at the college level.
I have no doubt that he will make the transition, it just isn't happening as quickly as the BYU fan base expected.
What it comes down to is that the offense isn't performing in most aspects of the game. Blocking, catching, throwing, running. There has to be improvement over the 17 points per game that ranks BYU at 119th in the country. The Cougars are ranked 105th in total offense at 338 yards per game, 126 on and the ground and 212 in the air. The Cougars have the talent to turn things around but it will take a team effort.
One of the positives going for the Cougars right now is the fact that they are sticking together as a team. There is no finger pointing at others for making mistakes and no division in the locker room.
The struggles of the offense can't be ignored and the answer isn't to keep doing the same thing over and over again. Changes have to be made yesterday and not in three weeks. Maybe these changes aren't as drastic as benching Hill and putting in Mangum. On the other hand they could be.
Now is when the coaches will earn their pay as they make the tough decisions. They can't fall back to their rookie status as an excuse, their opponents certainly aren't. Maybe the fix is something as simple as benching those that don't do their job until they improve. Maybe it is tailoring the play calling to the personnel in the game instead of to the coach calling it.
Whatever it is, the Cougars need to figure it out before 1-2 becomes 1-6 .